Assistant testifies against Noe
Noe was deep in debt when he received the money from the state, prosecutors said.
TOLEDO (AP) -- A politically connected coin dealer treated money that he received from the state to invest in rare coins like it was from his own ATM, his former personal assistant testified Tuesday.
Tom Noe, a one-time top GOP donor, is accused of stealing from a 50 million state investment in a scandal that threatens to topple the Ohio Republican Party in next month's election.
Noe, 52, tapped into the state's cash whenever he needed, said Sue Metzger, whose duties included overseeing Noe's personal checking account from 2003-05. "He described it as having access to an ATM," she said.
The scandal has raised Democrats' hopes of retaking the governor's office for the first time since 1990. Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland has a wide lead over Republican Ken Blackwell, Ohio's secretary of state, in governor's race polls.
Noe, once a powerful player within the GOP, has been under a cloud of suspicion since 2005 when questions arose about his management of the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation's rare coin fund.
His attorneys say the deal with the state's insurance fund for injured workers allowed Noe to use the money however he wanted, including to pay off personal business debts.
Metzger said she met with her boss in April 2005 after allegations of wrongdoing first surfaced and told him that, "God is after his heart, and that he may lose everything, but he'll get it all back."
'Like having an ATM'
Noe didn't say anything, she said. "I could tell by the look on his face things were bad," she said.
They met two months later, and Metzger asked Noe if he took the money, she testified. That's when Noe said it was like having an ATM, she said.
Prosecutors say Noe was deep in debt when he got the money from the state, and he quickly used it to pay back creditors and for his personal use.
Metzger handled payment of all of Noe's bills and began noticing that his spending increased greatly in 2004. He bought a house in the Florida Keys and spent 50,000 renovating the pool.
In some months, his expenses exceeded hundreds of thousands of dollars, she said. She said his paychecks weren't enough to cover the expenses and he would deposit money from other sources.
She initially didn't know where the extra money was coming from. Noe later told her he was tapping into the state's investment fund, she said.
Noe, seated at a table with his lawyers, occasionally traded smiles with his former employee during her testimony.
Metzger acknowledged that she never told investigators about Noe's comments during their meetings until after he was indicted in February because "I thought he was going to tell the truth," she said. Noe also told her that he had friends who would help cover up what was going on, but he then decided to face his troubles directly, she said.
Noe, once a go-to guy for the Republican Party, has pleaded not guilty to theft, money laundering, forgery and corrupt activity charges. He faces up to 10 years in prison on the corrupt activity charge.
The workers' comp agency initially invested 25 million with Noe in 1998, followed by another 25 million in 2001.
Noe spent only a fraction of the state's investment on coins, prosecutors said.
State agents expected to find 13 million in rare coins when they searched Noe's business last year, Tom Wersell, director of investigations for Bureau of Workers' Compensation, testified Tuesday. Instead, the agents counted up coins worth about 600,000, Wersell said.
The trial is expected to last at least six weeks, through Election Day on Nov. 7.